Here are the last five recruiting class rankings for Georgia Bulldogs football: 8th, 9th, 10th, 5th, 6th.
Here is where the Bulldogs ended up after each of the last five season’s final AP polls: 9th, unranked, 5th, 19th, unranked.
If you were to plot these points on a graph, one would look like a high-peaking plateau, and the other an EKG printout.
Always on the door step, but never through the door — this has been Georgia football under Mark Richt. Although Richt has been with the Bulldogs longer than Facebook has been in existence, his 14 years have produced, at best, just three top-five finishes in the final AP poll.
While 2007 was a contentious year, finishing strong and finishing second in the final rankings, 2012 was the gut-wrencher. Georgia came oh so close in 2012, losing to the eventual national champion Alabama Crimson Tide on the last possession of the SEC championship. They were one rub play away from advancing to a BCS title game technicality against the plebeian Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and one game from winning what would’ve been Georgia’s first outright national championship since 1980. That’s how close Richt has walked the line of legitimacy, a thin threshold between flawed tenure and immortalized achievement.
Sadly, in the world that most sports fans seem to see, it takes a championship to legitimize a coaching legacy, and sadly, Richt is still chasing one after 14 years in the red and black. He’s succeeded in traveling to living rooms across the country to uncover, decipher and secure transcendent talent — profiles he’s obtained through grainy highlight videos only to develop and deliver their opaque potential through to the NFL. The likes of Matthew Stafford, A.J. Green, Knowshon Moreno and Geno Atkins have come through and have been tempered by Richt, and have gone on to succeed beyond Sanford Stadium.
But as we’ve seen in a decade-and-a-half, it’s not just talent that will get the job done. It’s not getting upset by the South Carolina Gamecocks early on in the season. It’s holding off Alabama when Nick Saban is seconds from tearing his hair out. It’s not letting your in-state rival, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, beat you in Athens.
No, it’s not talent alone. It’s talent plus mental toughness and grit, all backed by discipline. Considering the team Georgia has been perennially putting together, the Bulldogs’ 2015 season should not already “be on the line” by Week 3, but they should be playing as if their season is on the line with every snap. It’s year 15 for Richt, and it’s time to play with urgency.